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Monthly EMS fees may be on the rise in city of Sunnyside

With recent salary raises given to firefighters during collective bargaining, the city of Sunnyside must consider whether or not to raise its ambulance utility rate, according to Councilman Don Vlieger.

Last night (Monday) during a council workshop, he said the ambulance utility rate is an enterprise fund and monthly fees assessed local residents are currently set at $3.98.

The concern is whether or not the city's budget can absorb the raises provided to the firefighters.

There are two possibilities that were Monday provided to city council. The first is a hike in the monthly tax to $4.89 through 2013, providing the city with $100,000 to cover minimal needs.

The other scenario presented was a tax increase to $5.16 per month to ensure services are covered for maximum needs.

"The citizens need to understand EMS (Emergency Medical Services) are not free...it does cost money," shared Vlieger.

Councilman Mike Farmer felt the city should suspend the hiring of a fire battalion chief while it considers the issue.

The issue, shared Interim City Manager Jim Bridges, will be one discussed during the coming budget process.

Farmer brought the issue of suspending the battalion chief position for 30 days again during the regularly scheduled council meeting, but Sunnyside Fire Department Chief Aaron Markham spoke up in protest.

"The position has already been budgeted...six months has passed," the chief shared.

Markham shared the battalion chief is to serve in a role that enforces code and abatement.

The ambulance utility tax, he shared, only accounts for 19 percent of his department's budget. Therefore, he felt suspending the battalion chief position would not be of benefit to the city.

"Before you consider cutting the position, look at the budget," Markham said.

Vlieger assured Markham the council was not looking to cut the position, but to suspend it while considering how to increase the revenues for the fire department.

Councilman Tom Gehlin added to the discussion, stating he did not agree with Vlieger or Farmer. He did not see suspending the position as a move in the right direction.

"I almost feel this is a threat (to the fire department)," shared Councilwoman Theresa Hancock.

She said Markham was correct in stating the battalion chief's position was an already approved matter.

Farmer's proposal to suspend the hiring of the Sunnyside Fire Department's battalion chief failed by a 4-2 vote of the council.

The council will address the ambulance utility rate in the future, after further study.

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